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Interview with Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi on The Spiderwick Chronicles

Black and DiTerlizzi Discuss the Film Version of The Spiderwick Chronicles

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Interview with Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi on The Spiderwick Chronicles

The Spiderwick Chronicles movie poster

© Paramount Pictures and Nickelodeon Movies
The writers of The Spiderwick Chronicles Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi are ready for more kids to discover the world of fairies and goblins when the film adaptation of their book series hits theaters in early 2008. Together for the 2007 San Diego Comic Con, the creators of The Spiderwick Chronicles talked about how the story of Jared, Simon and Mallory Grace made the leap to the big screen.

How did the process of creating The Spiderwick Chronicles come about?

Holly Black: “Here’s what we did: what we did is we got together and we talked about what we were going to do in the books. I’ll go off and write them, he’ll go off and illustrate them, and then we’ll send something back and forth and give each other feedback.”

Tony DiTerlizzi: “It’s an unusual relationship. Usually in books, an author goes off to write the story, and the publisher goes, ‘Oh great, we have a great illustrator in mind.’ Not the case here. I had written picture books prior to this; Holly had written young adult, teen fiction. We kind of just said, ‘Let’s just use every trick we’ve got in the book,’ no pun intended. That’s why if you look at the books, there’s no credit. It doesn’t say ‘Written by, Illustrated by’.”

Can you talk about how the story was changed for the film?

Holly Black: “We’ve seen all the screenplays and we got to give our thoughts on each of them. It was actually, it was really, really great. They’re very respectful.”

Tony DiTerlizzi: “It was good. I mean, you come to terms like, ‘We have five books, there’s no way they’re going to put all this in a 90-minute movie.’ The arcs that were created for these five books don’t match up with the arcs of a first and second and third act. So you know stuff’s going to be ditched and you’re ready for that.”

What do you think about animation supervisor and cCharacter designer Phil Tippett’s work?

Tony DiTerlizzi: “It was fantastic. The thing is with the visuals in Spiderwick, the whole thing behind it was I wanted it very like John James Audubon, very naturalistic, not very fantastical, so the stuff looked kind of real. Like, ‘This is what a Goblin really looks like. This is what a Troll is really supposed to look like,’ not a fanciful depiction. The thing about Phil, obviously I’m a huge tremendous fan of his work, but even if you look at some of his tests for Jurassic Park, the bone and the structure of the head piece, the way the fat jiggles, the way the muscles contract and expand, it’s very, very realistic. We knew he was going to be the perfect person to be able to take these creatures and make them look real. Not cartoony, not hokey, but very real. It’s not just a human with grotesque features, they’re like animal things.”

Why was the director of Mean Girls the right person for this?

Holly Black: “You wouldn’t think that Mark [Waters] is the obvious choice, but he was involved in the process early on and really, really got that this was about folklore, that this was about a world that isn’t good versus evil. It’s about a world that is alien and strange and right beside our world. He was so passionate about that that I think he was absolutely the right director.”

Tony DiTerlizzi: “Not to mention this movie, even though there’s a lot of trolls and goblins, it’s about a family. These kids are suffering from a divorce. That’s the reality of it. This little boy is dealing with the fact that his dad is never going to come home.

Mark is an amazing director with children. He’s proven that in his past movies. He hadn’t done a lot of special effects-laden movies, but he was really good at directing kids. I think you really need this for a movie like this.”

What did you think of the casting of Freddie Highmore?

Tony DiTerlizzi: “Oh gee, when we started our sights were so low, to have someone like Freddie involved was like having a dream come true. It was open casting call, actually. Early on they tried to find real twins and they couldn’t find real twins. Holly Black: “I think that was our assumption, was that they were going to get twins. The idea of having Freddie was fabulous and the idea of him then playing both Jared and Simon, really challenging and really fun. We were on the set, we got to see him one day doing one, the scene from one point of view. Then the next day we’d be able to see it from another point of view. It was really funny where he would be shouting at himself.”

Tony DiTerlizzi: “It’s seamless, of course, the way they composite the shots. There’s a scene where the two twins are fighting and you just think it’s two. You never know.”

Holly Black: “They’re standing right next to each other. It’s eerie.”

Tony DiTerlizzi: “Yeah, it’s really cool. But even all the other cast, I mean we had David Strathairn on our wish list. They let us put a wish list of people that we would love to see and he was on our wish list to play Arthur Spiderwick, so it was amazing to see. Sarah Bolger was amazing. I loved In America. She was fantastic as Mallory – she was really, really good. Of course, Mary-Louise Parker…”

Holly Black: “Unbelievable as the mom. She just is so passionate and so real. It makes the human story very, very strong.”

Do you have plans for more Spiderwick adventures?

Tony DiTerlizzi: “We’re actually launching a sequel this fall.”

Holly Black: “Yeah, there’s three more books, but they have different kids. There’s a little bit of overlap, but they’re set in Florida.”

Tony DiTerlizzi: “We wanted to pick an unlikely place. In retrospect, New England’s cool, but you could see stuff. You could see strange things happening in the old antiquated parts of New England, so we wanted to pick a very unlikely place. I grew up in South Florida. I thought, ‘Let’s go to Florida.’ Go on down there to do the research, and it seemed like a natural thing. The other thing is, there’s an undercurrent theme in the first Spiderwick book that happens again, which is definitely man rubbing up against nature. The fairies a lot of times are kind of the spirit of nature, of earth. …And clearly a huge issue down in Florida, if you’ve ever been down there, it’s like they’re just paving over everything. They’re developing, so it seems like a really good candidate.”

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